Monthly Archives: March 2014

I’m against tax breaks. that makes me a pariah amongst UK games industry folks. I’m, not against these tax breaks, I’m against ALL of them, especially the French, who frankly wanted to have them, but deny them to us. Fuck that. But I’d be happier if no video game in any country had them, as they are a distortion that is unwelcome. However, in the real world, we have to compete so…yay? I bet it’s impossible to ‘game’ them right? No new tax law ever has loopholes, thats why Starbucks and amazon pay the same tax rate as me! Lets try anyway…

“3 points if at least 66% is set in the United Kingdom or another EEA state or set in an undetermined location;”

CHECK! GSB2 is set in the star system Zog, so that is an undetermined location. pretty british so far…

“if there are only three characters depicted in the video game, 4 points if two or three of them are from the United Kingdom or another EEA state or from an undetermined location”

CHECK! I’ll get some tiny 32×32 faces drawn of 3 alien dudes who help with the tutorial. They are from Zog, which is undetermined, so yup, pretty british…

up to 4 points depending on the percentage of the original dialogue that is recorded in the English language or in a recognised regional or minority language as follows

CHECK! I have plans for zero dialogue, so I can state on oath that 100% of it was recorded in English.

2 points if at least 50% of the work carried out on any of the following is carried out in the United Kingdom

Ok, lets try to define 50% of the work. By time? by cost? By talent? by final contribution to the game? And lets define ‘carried out in’. If I have a design meeting over skype, where was that? here? the other guys place? skypes headquarters? the nearest fiber cabinet?

(a) 1 point if the project leader (or, if there is more than one, the main project leader) is a qualifying person;

Well thats me, so CHECK!

(b) 1 point if at least one of the scriptwriters (or, if there are more than three, one of the three lead scriptwriters) is a qualifying person;

Scriptwriter? is this a movie now? OK, I will write some dialog for the tutorial so thats me too. CHECK!

(d) 1 point if the artist (or, if there is more than one, the lead artist) is a qualifying person;

Yup, CHECK! Thats me too. I don’t get my hands dirty with actual art though, as lead, I hire other people to actually do my work…

(e) 1 point if the programmer (or, if there is more than one, the lead programmer) is a qualifying person;

(f) 1 point if the designer (or, if there is more than one, the lead designer) is a qualifying person;

(g) 1 point if at least one of the heads of department is a qualifying person;

(h) 1 point if at least 50% of the development team are qualifying persons.

Wow, that was an easy four points, as all those people are me too. As department head, and half the team, lead designer coder and artist, and scriptwriter, yeah, thats a lot of points.

So far so easy, now how much do I actually GET?

In summary, the relief allows a company to make an additional deduction in calculating the profit and loss of a game development project.
Righty ho. This is  going to be hilarious. So a game development project is already crazily hard to define. Is this engine work, or project work? What if I’m coding a routine used in one British and one non-British project? do I still claim the costs of writing that function? What is really an expense for this project anyway? My salary? do I need to keep a time log of which project I’m on now, for the Inland Revenue? If I have a business lunch where I discuss 2 different games, do we split the cost depending on which one was discussed the most?
If I run a generic ad campaign for my website that has 50% British and 50% non British games, is that an expense? is the marketing budget included? Define dev budget vs marketing budget for this purpose.
Lets now have a laugh with income from the game.
If I have 1 British and 1 non-British game in a bundle, do I split the profits from the sale 50/50? Ok cool. One of them is GSB 2, one of them is a pong clone I set in piccadilly circus and coded in 5 minutes that’s bundled with GSB2, so lets split 50/50 right? You think that’s unfair? Prove it.
In fact I might only sell bundles of my games from now on, all bundled with piccadilly-pong, so all of my back-catalog is now British too. Yay!
Some of this might not work, but some will, and people whose entire job is to find exploits will. So the 2 pages of tax-code for this ‘relief’ will become 200 pages, and at that point one-man indies won’t be able to justify the bureaucracy of claiming.
I’d love to be proven wrong…

Extremism on the way

March 26, 2014 | Filed under: democracy3 | game design

I’ve taken some time out of my GSB2 coding schedule to manage and test and work on another expansion pack for Democracy 3, called Democracy 3: Extremism. This is a huge big list of new policies and situations that represent more extreme politics. I can already predict that a lot of players will be annoyed it isn’t MORE extreme than it is.

What does political extremism mean to you? within a democratic context? I’m not talking armed mobs that overthrow the government, but parties with actual popular support. I’ve tried to walk the line between including some fairly extreme views, whilst also keeping it credible as a policy a western government might actually put into place. I’m also slightly wary of acting as fodder for any exploitative tabloid journalism along the lines of ‘Game developer endorses culling the elderly!’ for example.

When you sit down to analyze it, extremism is really a hard concept to nail down. One of the policies in the pack is ‘close all airports permanently’, presented as an environmental move. I’m sure a lot of people would think such a policy was insane, but there are quite definitely environmentalists who would argue it’s entirely reasonable. There are people who would ban private education and private healthcare, and others that would consider that practically stalinist. The base game lets you legalize or ban gun ownership, both positions that encourage cries of ‘extremism!’ in different parts of the world.

french cheese and guns

Obviously a lot of this is skewed by where you live and your background. I’m from the UK. In the grand scheme of things it’s a pretty liberal country. You can have state or private education or healthcare. Gay marriage is legal, we have pretty good freedom of speech. Divorce and abortion are perfectly accepted (abortion less so, arguably). We have very strict gun controls, and fairly strict (but not strongly enforced) drug laws. All of this gets reflected in my own prejudices. I don’t find the fact that we make gun ownership very hard to be at all extremist, yet if you banned private schooling I’d consider that an extreme move. (I went to a state school FWIW). I’d consider outlawing homosexuality insane, and consider scrapping the state health service equally insane. There is no real pattern at work here, we are all skewed by what we are used to. My position on healthcare is to the left of my general position on state-provision, almost certainly because I’ve lived all my life in the UK…

What I’m getting at is that extremism is very culturally dependent, and often entirely illogical. I consider a ban on divorce or homosexuality nuts, but many such bans exist in the world, even in the rich developed western world. Sex toys are illegal in Alabama, abortions are illegal in Ireland. It’s not a simple case of the left wing wanting to ban stuff, or the right wing wanting to ban stuff. there is no logical pattern. Stuff seems ‘extremist’ because we aren’t used to it. One of the policies in the pack is national flags on every street corner. A crazy idea in the UK, but in the USA? probably not so. Another is compulsory church attendance, seemingly crazy in the UK, maybe not in Alabama? Subsidies for new cars. Extremist? maybe a bit? but we have experimented with that in the UK. Forcing the unemployed to do community work? I bet that sounds extremist in some countries. Public Tax returns? A punitive wealth tax?

I look forward to peoples debate and discussion when the expansion gets released. My politics are very fluid. I think a lot about what I think, and my politics change over time. Twenty years ago I was against positive discrimination, but now I have finally changed my mind. Analyzing your opinions on political issues, putting them into context and rationalizing them against the backdrop of your other views is a fascinating thing to do. It’s always good to re-examine what you believe.

Except Free to Play, that’s just evil :D

 

I guess we live in attention deficit times. I’m guessing roughly 95% of people commenting on the various sites that ran my last blog post, most of which had a bucketful of abuse and hatred for me, didnt actually read the article at all. They skimmed it, eager to whine and moan and hurl insults at a game developer, as is the trend, and assumed it said “Sales are a bad thing because I make less money”.

Which it didn’t. it didn’t even come fucking CLOSE to saying that. Sales make me, and many devs a lot of money. I’m not moaning about money, my games sell very very well, but as 95% of people just wanted to hurl abuse at a game developer to deal with whatever issues they have in their lives, then thats what people wanted to read, and thats what people moaned about.

Why bother?

If you won’t read an article, why comment?

The vast, vast majority of insightful, interesting and well-thought out commentary on the games industry I have read has been on invite-only private mailing lists and forums that you will not find or be able to read. Why? because it shuts out the foghorn of internet abuse from anonymous angry kids. I try, in this blog to write stuff of some interest, from a point of view most people do not have (indie game dev) because I feel it might be something other devs and gamers like to read. Quite why people who hate me, and want to insult me even read my blog is beyond me. I think Jeremy Clarkson is a dick, so amazingly, I don’t follow him on twitter!

Let’s try again…

I studied economics at university. One of the things you learn is about maximising market utility. This is basically trying to achieve a situation where everyone is paying for something what it is worth to them (not what they ‘think’ it is worth). That means people who LOVE a game pay more than people who play it for 20 seconds. PWYW bundles kind of achieve this, but only if people are 100% honest about what a game is worth, and because they probably haven’t played it yet, it’s kind of backwards.  F2P kind of achieves it, but it doesn’t take into account different income levels. $100 to me is different to $100 to you.

The reason we want everyone to pay what something is worth, is that this leads to the absolute perfect allocation of resources. Really good games do really well. Really bad games tank entirely and the developer goes bankrupt. That’s the free market, and in theory it works great. it means we get more good games and less bad ones. If you don’t agree with me that this is a good thing, then stop reading.

Given that we want everyone to pay what something is worth, two things come to mind:

1) If you pay less than the value of something to you, then this is a market distortion, the developer is not rewarded in proportion to the products quality, and thus the important market-signal is not sent, so less games like that get made. THIS IS A VALID POINT BUT NOT THE ONE I WAS MAKING.

2) If you buy something you don’t like at all, and do not even actually EVER play, then a developer is potentially rewarded for making a bad game. A NEGATIVE market signal is sent, encouraging the production of more bad games, and taking resources away from making good games. This is the point I was making. Sales of 90% off where people grab 20 supposedly 20 hour games that they will never play lead to this problem.

If you don’t see how 2) is bad for Gamers, then I give up. If you don’t see that the mass phenomena of people buying games they never play leads to 2), then I give up.

More upbeat posts about Democracy 3 coming next :D

 

 

You hear the comment quite often ‘I’m not buying anything till I clear my backlog’ and ‘I bought that game then realized I already owned it’ and ‘I bought the first one but didn’t play it, might pick this up…’

This is nuts. Gamers are being played, played like a fucking piano, every time you see the word SALE. This is a big psychology trick that is being used to siphon money from gamers, and it’s a bad thing, and if we can (and I think we probably can’t) we should stop it. Here is why I think using deep discounting to sell games to non-players is bad:

  • It kills off game launches. That thing where everyone plays the latest game doesn’t happen so much now. The game is ignored until the first 50% or 75% off sale. You don’t get that ‘water cooler moment’ where everyone talks about a game. That means some multiplayer games launch without the proper size of players, and the company isn’t making enough to retain support staff to patch and improve the game at launch.
  • It’s a step away from selling based on quality. When a game is in a one-day 75% off sale, how much research do you do before buying? Did you watch a lets play? the trailer? did you read any reviews? how many? Admit it, you have bought a game based on the name, a logo and a screenshot because it was under $5 haven’t you? If so, this is a problem. We are rewarding games with cool names & screenshots over actual quality.
  • We are handing power to people who run sales. If anyone can sell $50,000 in a day with any game just by being on the front page of a sale, then that makes the people who manage the sale webpage the kingmakers. Is that right? is it fair? is it an optimum maximization of everyone’s satisfaction and enjoyment? Or is it more likely making hits out of games who are well known (or liked) by the owners of the big portals?
  • We devalue games. We expect games to be $5. We don’t ‘invest’ money in them, so we give up and discard them at the first time we lose, or when we get confused or stuck. Some games are complex, tricky, hard to master, take a while to get to the point at which it all makes sense. We are increasingly likely to not bother with complex games, if we paid $5, we want something quick and disposable.
  • We don’t play beyond the first 10%. There is not a single game in my steam collection I’ve finished. Not ONE. And I almost always buy full price. There are many games I’ve played for under 30 minutes, some for under 10 minutes. They may have wonderful endings, who cares? I have another X games sat there I can experience the opening level of instead. And yet… gamers insist on 50 hours of gameplay. Cue 49 hours of back-tracking and filler, because game devs KNOW that 90%+ of buyers will never see the game ending anyway…

I’m not sure there is anything we can do about it. Discounts work. Sales work. There is some mileage in building a reputation for maintaining high prices for longer, I think I’ve built that up to some extent. D3 has never been lower than 50% since release back in October, with no immediate plans to re-do that 50% off or go lower. This is quite rare though. I got called a ‘fascist who hates gamers’ one month after release because the game was not on sale. *sigh*.

I understand that varied price points to suit different gamers is good, I understand the reasons for sales being economically efficient ways to maximize global utility. But this implies utility is derived from the product. We are no longer selling products, we are selling discounts. The endorphin rush is now from getting a bargain, not the fun of actually *playing* the game. This is bad.

Am I right? Am I wrong. TELL ME :D

So I didn’t win a BAFTA. I didn’t think I would. I thought Papers,Please would win it, and it did. I did get to drink champagne and listen to carol vorderman and some nobody from hollyoaks though. Quite why some nobody from hollyoaks is giving out games awards baffles me. At least Dara O Brien actually *is* a gamer.. Anyway…

By the time you drive to London & back, park in London, book a hotel room in London, BUY 2 tickets for the awards ceremony and hire special outfits that apparently in 2014 we still need to drink champagne… There isn’t actually much change from £1,000 ($1,600) in being an indie game dev at the BAFTAs. Obviously for a billionaire like me, this is petty cash, but it’s a big chunk of change none the less. Luckily those fine chaps at steam ran a BAFTA sale on the day with Democracy 3 included, which earned me about £12k that day, so woohoo! I win!

sale

Now I’m back in my sheep-surrounded country headquarters, and coding away, there are probably a number of other updates to mention. Update #1 is that for a LONG TIME, I will be working away on Gratuitous Space Battles 2, and mostly I just *can’t* show you any of the stuff I’m doing now until I reveal the ‘big feature’ in it, and I don’t want to do that until i have some newer art, which will be a month or three.

Secondly, there are firm plans now to bring Democracy 3 to the IPAD. Oh yes. the IPAD. I have not been a huge evangelist for the income-generating potential of the ipad, but I have had such commercial success with D3, and it’s such a touchscreen-friendly GUI, that I have taken the decision to give it a go. There are not enough thoughtful deep strategy games on tablets, so I’m hoping to find a niche there. I’m outsourcing this 100%.

facebook

Thirdly, I continue to throw money at advertising, despite nobody ever agreeing with my theories there :. Right now I have a pretty steady $400/day spend on facebook ads. My tracking (which I’m improving today) shows that getting someone to visit the BUY page on my site for D3 costs between $3-4. The game is $25, DLC can take that higher, and of course there is extra viral + future income. Right now, I’m content to continue with that experiment, having chalked up $4,541 on facebook ads this month. The direct+steam+apple app store sales of D3 are very good, so I’m still somehow making a daily profit on this, and as D3 has paid for itself happily, I’m looking at this process as a general ‘raising my general site profile’ expense right now. I’d stop if it ever hit 50% of my revenue.

There are also TWO other projects in the works under the positech umbrella. that probably sounds mad, but I’m slowly expanding in little dribbles, and I’m not working on either of them, so I still have plenty of time to concentrate on spaceships. yay!